Around the Web

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Check out these recent articles from around the web:

In today’s troubling times, where are our faith leaders? by EJ Dionne: “Humble prophets are hard to find, especially in this election year, but they have a special vocation: to remind the skeptical that religion, which can indeed be divisive, is also a moral prod and an intellectual spark.”

Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl by Nicholas Kristof: “The reasons for the opposition then were the same as they are for rejecting Syrians or Hondurans today: We can’t afford it, we should look after Americans first, we can’t accept everybody, they’ll take American jobs, they’re dangerous and different.”

Paul Ryan unveils plan to set fire to the American health-care system by Paul Waldman: “Just imagine that: 20 million Americans losing their coverage all at once. Consider the parade of horror stories in the news about people being destroyed financially, and more than a few dying, because they can’t afford health care.”

‘Shedding tears for the injured children of Syria is not enough’ by  Zaher Sahloul: “Every life is precious. Omran has reminded us all of the terrible suffering of the children caught up in this war. Let us not forget them again.”

The New Ideology of the New Cold War by Jochen Bittner: “We need a new generation of Roosevelts, Adenauers and Monnets, leaders who will take on orderism’s challenge without lashing out at its adherents.”

Forming Our Children to Go Forth by Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy: “One of the hardest things to explain is that while neither political party shares all of our Catholic values, we cannot simply retreat from political life and its respective duties.”

How foreign money is being used to campaign against our abortion law by David Quinn: “The funding for the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment has come from an organisation called the Open Society Foundation which was established and is financed by one of the world’s richest men, billionaire George Soros. Some of the money goes to good causes. But Soros also favours the liberalisation of drug laws, laws against prostitution and laws against abortion.  We know that Soros is funding Irish pro-choice organisations because documents from his organisation were leaked.”

Trump’s most insidious claim yet by Michael Sean Winters: “He has now topped his list of outrageous things with a new charge, the most insidious to date. He has said that if he does not win the election this November, it will be because the election is rigged.”


More Chemical Attacks in Syria Highlight Costs of Inaction

The use of chemical weapons continues in Syria, as the international norm against their use crumbles through a lack of enforcement:

For the third time in just two weeks, chemical weapons were reportedly used against civilians in northern Syria. The United Nations is investigating the most recent case, which came Wednesday when barrel bombs thought to contain chlorine gas dropped on the rebel-controlled neighborhood of Zubdiya in eastern Aleppo, killing at least four people, including a mother and her two children, and wounding around 60 more.

Both the Assad regime and opposition forces have denied responsibility, but several witnesses and monitoring groups have said that helicopters dropped explosive barrel bombs on the affected neighborhood. Opposition forces, it bears noting, do not have helicopters….

Chlorine gas is classified as a choking agent, and when inhaled, fills the lungs with liquid and can lead to asphyxiation. Using it in a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the Assad regime agreed to join after a 2013 UN investigation found that the nerve agent Sarin was used against civilians in Eastern Ghouta, killing 1,429 people, more than 400 of them children.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, meanwhile, has produced a new video on Aleppo, as it pushes for the protection of civilians from continued mass atrocities:

Over two years ago, in Time, I called Pope Francis’ handling of the war in Syria his “one big mistake.” Subsequent events have only reinforced my argument that the pope should have called on the international community to enforce the Responsibility to Protect. But the pope’s mistake pales in comparison to President Barack Obama’s, given the difference between moral and material leadership. Nicholas Kristof addresses Obama’s failure in his recent column on “Obama’s worst mistake”:

A crazed gunman’s attack on an Orlando club in June, killing 49 people, resulted in blanket news coverage and national trauma.

Now imagine that such a massacre unfolds more than five times a day, seven days a week, unceasingly for five years, totaling perhaps 470,000 deaths. That is Syria. Yet even as the Syrian and Russian governments commit war crimes, bombing hospitals and starving civilians, President Obama and the world seem to shrug.

I admire Obama for expanding health care and averting a nuclear crisis with Iran, but allowing Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged has been his worst mistake, casting a shadow over his legacy. It is also a stain on all of us, analogous to the indifference toward Jewish refugees in the 1930s, to the eyes averted from Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur in the 2000s.

This is a crisis that cries out for American leadership, and Obama hasn’t shown enough.

In fairness, Obama is right to be cautious about military involvement, and we don’t know whether the more assertive approaches favored by Hillary Clinton, Gen. David Petraeus and many others would have been more effective. But I think Obama and Americans in general are mistaken when they seem to suggest: It’s horrible what’s going on over there, but there’s just nothing we can do.

“There are many things we can be doing now,” James Cartwright, a retired four-star general who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told me. “We can do many things to create security in selected areas, protect and stabilize those safe zones and allow them to rebuild their own country even as the conflict continues in other parts of the country.”…

One aim of such strategies is to increase the odds of a negotiated end to the war. Obama’s reticence has robbed Secretary of State John Kerry, who is valiantly trying to negotiate a lasting Syrian cease-fire, of leverage….

“Sitting idly by and allowing a government and its allies to systematically and deliberately bomb, torture and starve hundreds of thousands of people to death, that is not the solution,” Dr. Samer Attar, a surgeon from Chicago, told me. “Silence, apathy, indifference and inaction aren’t going to make it go away.”

Kristof also responded to critics online who argued Syria is complicated and the conflict has no easy, simple solution:

Thanks for your comments on my Syria column. Some of you disagree, noting–quite correctly–that Syria is complicated and risky with no perfect solution. That was also true of our options during the Bosnian, Rwandan, Darfur, Cambodian and Nazi genocides. But when you face mass atrocities like those unfolding in Syria, it’s no excuse to say, “it’s hard.” Cratering Syrian military runways with a missile strike from Turkey to make them inoperable might not work, but it might. Helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon get an education is rather easier, and we don’t do that either. The point is that every expert I consulted, military and civilian, agrees that there are steps we can take that will probably but not definitely help. If we continue to do nothing, hundreds of thousands more will die. Enough is enough.

We might expect libertarians to make such arguments—they oppose anti-poverty programs for the same reason they oppose action to protect civilians from mass atrocities. And, of course, it is easy to understand why pro-authoritarian Catholics and sectarian Christianists, who are rather indifferent to hundreds of thousands of Muslims being slaughtered, are pushing for inaction. But “it’s hard” or “it’s complicated” are weak excuses for those who believe the government can ensure everyone has access to affordable, quality healthcare or can end chronic homelessness, incredibly difficult, complex challenges. Perfection or nothing is a standard progressives (or anyone who believes in active government) would never embrace on these types of domestic issues. And they should reject that standard on foreign policy too. Syria is extraordinarily complex, but to believe that current and past policies have been optimal is to live in an alternate reality.


Listening to What Syrians Actually Want Instead of Assad’s Propaganda

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad of the University of Stirling has an excellent article in Dissent on the importance of listening to what Syrians want and acknowledging the reality on the ground:

If Syrians haven’t been heard, it’s not for lack of trying. There are compelling voices covering the conflict—reporting, analyzing, prescribing. All are ignored.

Syrians want self-determination, but they are thwarted by a ruthless regime backed by Russian arms and UN vetoes. Western governments are unwilling to act because they see no vital interests at stake in Syria; Western publics are leery because they see everything as a replay of Iraq; both are united in the patronizing, orientalist assumption that the stability of a state is more valuable than the rights of its people. The unfiltered Syrian story is thus an inconvenient one. It is far more comforting to treat Syria as a domestic debate in which right and wrong can be deduced from ideological principles rather than examined facts.

In spite of the erasure, Syrians have strived to ensure that the defective first draft of history does not become the final word. In images and words, they have tried to preserve an unvarnished record of the years of revolution and war. They have been aided in this by the heroic efforts of the Local Coordination Committees (a network of local groups organizing and reporting on civil society activism) and the White Helmets (a volunteer organization providing search, rescue, and medivac services), and by the painstaking record kept by the Violations Documentation Center and the Syrian Network for Human Rights….

Western civil society wasn’t stirred into action until the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish shore. The sympathy that was denied to Syrians as citizens fighting tyranny seemed more forthcoming as depoliticized victims seeking refuge. For four years most progressives had actively embraced, or tacitly internalized, the regime’s portrayal of all its opponents as Islamist terrorists, yet they were suddenly indignant when far-right xenophobes borrowed the same tropes to malign refugees. But in the middle of all this, as Putin intervened in Syria, generating new waves of refugees, many progressives saw no contradiction between their sympathy for refugees and their support (overt or unspoken) for Russia’s intervention.

Syrians have died overwhelmingly at the hands of the regime; they have been detained and tortured en masse by the regime; they have fled primarily because of the regime (the crimes are being better documented than “anywhere since Nuremberg,” according to American lawyer Stephen Rapp). To them, the regime is the root of Syria’s evil. But if, in spite of the facts, the dubious logic of lesser evilism has prevailed, it is because most Syrian people have been written out of their own story. Journalists, activists, intellectuals, politicians, and diplomats have participated in this erasure. Even the sympathetic ones have reported Syria mostly as a tableau of horrors. The horrors are undeniable, but what the story lacks is a chronicle of resistance—resistance against impossible odds, with grace, without hope, and through constant betrayal. Samar Yazbek, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al Shami, and others have ensured that the answer to “What do Syrians want?” is no longer a mystery.

Samer Attar, a surgeon with Northwestern Medicine in Chicago who volunteered in Aleppo, meanwhile, describes what it is like to see the regime’s crimes up close:

The hospital shook from the blast. The victims were not terrorists or soldiers. They were civilians shopping for the upcoming Eid celebration. Twenty-five people were killed. Dozens more were injured. There were not enough beds, so patients were placed on floors smeared with blood and body parts, with barely a place to step. Dead bodies were piled into the street to make room for incoming wounded.

The screaming never let up. Children covered in blood and dust and pockmarked with shrapnel screamed for their parents and siblings. Some would be reunited whole; others would learn whom they had lost, or which of their children’s limbs were missing or mutilated. Some had the bone shards of disintegrated bystanders embedded in their skin — routine findings after such attacks.

I saw a child, breathing but silent, with severe burns and his intestines protruding from his belly. His skin and hair were burned off. He died a couple of days later. A 5-year-old had just died before him due to respiratory failure — shrapnel from a bomb cut his spinal cord and paralyzed him from the chest down. One surgeon cut open a man’s chest in a last-ditch effort to clamp a bleeding vessel near the heart. It worked temporarily, but the man had lost too much blood, and there was no more blood to give him. Two children would later bleed to death in the operating room for similar reasons. I did an above-knee amputation on a stretcher in a hallway because all the operating rooms were full. Others whose limbs were traumatically amputated in the attack had to sit with tourniquets until an operating room opened. We later learned that a child had been decapitated by the blast.

Such slaughter occurred daily. Here, innocent civilians being blinded, amputated, burned, paralyzed, crushed and mutilated by bombs is the routine. Here, the world has shown little solidarity with innocents being massacred. This was not the work of the Islamic State. The terrorism I saw in Aleppo came from helicopters and jets in the sky.


Tim Kaine Talks ‘Faith, Family, and Work’ in Outstanding First Speech

A few days ago, Tim Kaine gave perhaps the best debut speech of any presidential running mate in recent history. He showed that he is a happy warrior who will fight for his deepest convictions while directly challenging his opponents, all without turning to the bile and hateful rhetoric that permeate American politics. In his first big speech, he showed sincerity, optimism, energy, and verve. His optimism and patriotism sharply contrast with the doom and gloom denigration of the United States by Donald Trump during his RNC speech. Kaine’s policy knowledge and seriousness contrast with the utter vapidity of Trump’s campaign, while he explained his positions in a relaxed, genial way that is easy for everyday Americans to understand.

While left-wing culture warriors have pushed a strategy centered on social libertarianism that is designed to win the White House despite being deeply damaging to many Democrats running for Congress and at the state level, Kaine offered an alternative: a complete and total focus on issues facing working class and middle class Americans. He talked about building bridges and having a “kids and family first president.” He highlighted Hillary Clinton’s communitarian impulses, the most admirable elements of her political vision and drive, while showing that he too sincerely believes we are “stronger together.” It is an important message at a time when radical individualism is poisoning both parties through the disproportionate power of self-centered economic elites.

What was really remarkable was how fluidly and authentically he talked about his faith and how it drives his life and commitment to social justice. Given the rising number of ‘nones’ in the Democratic coalition, it is remarkable how religiously devout the Clinton-Kaine ticket is. Kaine said, “I’m a Catholic and Hillary is a Methodist, but I tell ya, her creed is the same as mine: do all the good you can.” One may disagree with their application of Christian ethical principles or how they blend their faith and political life (as I’ll discuss below), but it is clear that both are driven by a deep, sincere Christian faith (unless you are blinded by the beam in your eye, as you busily search for apostates while intentionally or unwittingly propping up plutocracy, a fairly common ailment on social media). Read More


Donald Trump is a Threat to Free Democracy

The prospect of Donald Trump as President of the United States is the greatest threat to free democracy on the planet today. His consistent praise of dictators and refusal to condemn anti-democratic crackdowns should be troubling to anyone who supports the norms and institutions of American democracy. Would he curtail the freedom of the press? Would he respect constitutional limits on his power? Would he punish enemies extra-constitutionally? These are disturbing questions to ponder, but his rhetoric should place these concerns at the center of this election.

But the global impact of a potential Trump presidency is even more frightening. If Trump is elected president, the US will no longer be the leader of the free world (a role that it has played, albeit imperfectly, since WWII). Trump is open to abandoning NATO partners if they are attacked. This is essentially an invitation to further Russian aggression. The entire architecture of the postwar order is threatened by this position and this man. The possibility of massive global unrest, from land-grabbing invasions to nuclear proliferation to even a third world war, would rise precipitously with his election. His ‘America First’ approach marks a return to the dangerous approach of 1930s isolationists. There is a reason this man has widespread support from brutal dictators and neo-fascists; he would greatly strengthen the forces of authoritarianism and totalitarianism around the world.

If one believes in freedom, democracy, and human rights; if one values human security, international order, and peace through strength and unity; and if one acknowledges the responsibility of the United States to work for these aims, one must see this presidency-seeking reality TV star as an absolute menace.

Trump is not an ordinary candidate for the presidency. He is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime threat to American ideals and the critical commitments we have to people around the world. Those who are committed to the global common good should be clear: we need a commander-in-chief who will not coddle dictators, invite unjust aggression, and open the door to global chaos.

 


Updated: Stop Using Chris Stevens’ Death for Political Gain

Dr. Anne Stevens, the sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens, has served as a family spokesperson since his death. She’s had enough of irresponsible politicians and their allies politicizing her brother’s death:

It is clear, in hindsight, that the facility was not sufficiently protected by the State Department and the Defense Department. But what was the underlying cause? Perhaps if Congress had provided a budget to increase security for all missions around the world, then some of the requests for more security in Libya would have been granted. Certainly the State Department is underbudgeted.

I do not blame Hillary Clinton or Leon Panetta. They were balancing security efforts at embassies and missions around the world. And their staffs were doing their best to provide what they could with the resources they had. The Benghazi Mission was understaffed. We know that now. But, again, Chris knew that. It wasn’t a secret to him. He decided to take the risk to go there. It is not something they did to him. It is something he took on himself….

Part of being a diplomat is being out in the community. We all recognize that there’s a risk in serving in a dangerous environment. Chris thought that was very important, and he probably would have done it again. I don’t see any usefulness in continuing to criticize her. It is very unjust….

It was so important to have a U.S. presence in Benghazi and to show support for the American center being set up and other programs, such as the Benghazi Medical Center. We were helping them establish their new society. I don’t think we’ll ever know why he made the decision to take the risk of going to Benghazi, knowing there were multiple attacks. It was clearly a bad decision….

With the many issues in the current election, to use that incident—and to use Chris’s death as a political point—is not appropriate.

Bubaker Habib, a local contractor for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, meanwhile, has reminded everyone of Stevens’ heroic work, which should define his legacy, rather than his life and death being instrumentalized for attacks by shameless political hacks.

Upon my arrival (in the US) I was dismayed to find that the public conversation here had veered from memorializing a slain hero to hijacking his legacy for naked political agendas. Yet I maintained faith that, over time, the country would settle its discord, heal its wounds and return to honoring Chris Stevens, his life’s work and the noble mission for which he died.

We all know this has not happened, but not everyone will understand why. Yet I have had a front-row seat. For months, I have been approached by people seeking to persuade me to publicly endorse their false version of events that night, namely that Chris was taking part in secret weapons smuggling and that the secretary of state was responsible for letting him die….

The truth is that Chris’s mission was to help build a partnership between the United States and the Libyan people and to help rebuild the country. That’s what brought him to Benghazi, first as a special envoy in 2011 and then as ambassador in September 2012. He knew the dangers better than anyone else, yet he believed his mission was too important not to carry out to the fullest of his abilities. The attacks that claimed his life and those of three other brave Americans were crimes and tragedies of the greatest magnitude. The blame rests entirely and unquestionably on those who carried out the attacks….

The mission of the United States in Libya in 2011 and 2012 was noble, and Chris was its most lovable and effective champion.

Updated: Nine days after this article was published, the New York Times published this letter to the editor from Ambassador Chris Stevens’ mother:

As Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’s mother, I am writing to object to any mention of his name and death in Benghazi, Libya, by Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party.

I know for certain that Chris would not have wanted his name or memory used in that connection. I hope that there will be an immediate and permanent stop to this opportunistic and cynical use by the campaign.


Elie Wiesel: A Hero for Our Times

With the death of Elie Wiesel, the world has lost one of its great champions of human rights—an enemy of indifference, inaction, and impunity. Wiesel, who lived through the horrors of Nazi persecution, dedicated his life to the principle and aspiration ‘never again.’ He has helped to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, when many would like to simply forget the depths of the human capacity for evil. And he reminded us of its central lessons, the most important lessons of the 20th century.

He spent his life fighting the scourge of anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry, silence in the face of suffering and evil, and neutrality in response to oppression and injustice. From the former Yugoslavia to Darfur to Syria, while others offered very measured, seemingly reasonable defenses of inaction in the face of mass atrocities and genocide, he reminded the international and global community of the moral imperative to protect the innocent when we have the capacity to do so. He told us, “When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” The global common good and our responsibilities to one another as members of one human family trump the myriad excuses for narrow nationalism and selfish isolationism.

Despite seeing unimaginable horrors, Wiesel said, “Yes, I have faith. Faith in God and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.” Before the pope warned of the globalization of indifference, Wiesel was one of its most persistent, dedicated opponents. And he was driven by his faith.

Christiane Amanpour has called him a “hero for our times” and “a clear, consistent, and enduring moral voice.” President Obama said that he “was one of the great moral voices of our time, and in many ways, the conscience of the world.”

The right way to honor Elie Wiesel is not with lovely words, but by devoting oneself to the defense of human dignity, justice, and freedom around the globe. Remember the lives unjustly ripped from our world. And continue his work. Read More